Drag Den’s Drag Dealer and Drag Runner turned up the show’s flavor by adding generous doses of glamor and comedy (respectively) that enhanced and enriched the viewing experience.
Beauty queen Nicole Cordoves and social media superstar Sassa Gurl brought their personalities and uniqueness to Drag Den, further cementing their roles as legends in the LGBTQIA+ community.
The cherished allyship of a beauty queen
The Filipino LGBTQIA+ community holds beauty queens in high regard. It goes beyond entertainment and the grand spectacle of camp. By presenting themselves on the pageant stage, they become shining examples from whom to draw inspiration. The way they embody poise, elegance, and brilliance bares the qualities we aspire to have. A few put in more work and rose above the rest, earning their iconic status in queer pop culture.
Enter Miss Grand International 2016 1st Runner-up Nicole Cordoves. She’s become a bridge to help educate people outside the community on how to properly acknowledge the rainbow family and speak with them when issues threatening their space in society arise. A space she says the community has carved for generations.
Drag Den promised the marriage between drag and pageantry. So, it’s only fitting that Nicole landed the role of the Drag Dealer, serving as a mentor and critic to the contestants, providing feedback and guidance on their performances. “I still have this video of them backstage, just moments before they went up on stage where they were helping each other put on lashes—and that was hard because our set was very dim,” Nicole says on the genuine sisterhood at play despite being in a competition setting. “It’s one of the best things about this show being a drag pageant, so without the elimination, they get to see each other through a complete journey where there is always a chance for them to develop their character and change their game.”
Like many of us, Cordoves was enthralled by the art of drag when she witnessed the magic firsthand. “Drag queens are like ordinary people who decided to become drop-dead gorgeous superheroes on stage. Their alter egos that give them the courage to manifest who they want to be inspire so many to find their alter egos: the best, bravest, and most beautiful parts of themselves.”
The rise of the baklang kanal revolution
“Magulo, maingay, kabaklaan, somehow non-sense, pero it makes perfect sense,” Sassa Gurl perfectly articulates the essence of Drag Den’s dragdagulan. She admits that a lot of the viewers were left confused as to what that final round meant and adds, “Hindi ‘yan naiintindihan ng karamihan kasi culture ‘yan sa Ms. Gay, kaya pinapa-experience namin ‘yung kanal culture.” Most of us are so tightly wired by the Westernized version of drag that we forget to look at what is already happening in our backyard.
Sassa recalls the time when society (and also from within the community) used to treat LGBTQIA+ people belonging to low-income brackets with disdain. It’s still an ongoing prejudice deeply ingrained in any society, but since she rose to fame, many people who resonated with her were motivated to embrace their true kalye selves.
“Ang baklang kanal ay mga baklang na-expose sa kanal culture, specifically sa squatters area. Magulo, yes, pero masaya.”
Last year, Sassa Gurl broke the internet as she made herstory as the first openly queer calendar girl of White Castle Whisky. Such powerful representation in mainstream media humanizes the disadvantaged and the oppressed minority and, in turn, opens discussions that aid education. “Kailangan mo makita ‘yung sarili mo sa media at ma-represent ka,” Sassa echoes. “Kailangan mo makita ‘yung existence mo na napapahalagahan at naha-highlight. At higit sa lahat, hindi mo na kailangan baguhin sarili mo to form a certain standard because ibig sabihin nun, ‘pag na-represent ka na, you’re fine. You’re perfectly fine. You feel seen. You feel heard.”
Sassa Gurl is mighty proud to be part of Drag Den because of what it stands for, and there’s simply no other show quite like it. “It focuses on the struggles of the queer community rather than just making an eye-candy show. It’s very political, which is very important in this climate. It’s important now because a lot of people recognize the oppression. Ito ang pinakamagandang oras na maging political dahil maraming nakikinig. Maraming mga palabas na nagta-tackle ng politics pero hindi ang politics ng pagiging bakla.”
Sassa confesses that she was never a fan of drag and was only familiarized with it when she joined the cast of Drag Den. “Hindi ako mahilig sa performances ng mga drag. Hindi ako mahilig kasi hindi lang ako nakakapanood,” she admits. “Hindi ko siya maintindihan. Bakit ang kakapal ng makeup nila? Kung ako nag-makeup ng ganon, kung 60 kilos ako, magiging 63 kilos ako after ko makeup-an!” After she saw the creativity, passion, and stories that unfurled along the way, she says that she’s found great appreciation and admiration toward the art. “Happy ako sa performance ng lahat. Sobrang gagaling. Sobrang unique. I hope na matapatan ng season two ‘yung season one queens.”